According to a UK solar panel expert, silicon—the primary material in solar panel manufacturing today—may soon be a thing of the past. So what material has the versatility to take its place? You guessed it: plastic.
While there is a variety of reasons plastic trumps silicone, it comes down to three main points: flexibility, weight and cost. Not only is plastic much cheaper to produce, it can easily be rolled up and installed on a variety of surfaces.
Generally, commercial plastic acts as an insulator, the opposite of what solar panels are required to do. To change this, the molecular structure needs to be “tweaked” somewhat.
But according to experts, mass-producing this new kind of plastic is something that can happen in the near future.
In fact, Konarka, a U.S.-based tech company, is already using this plastic on everything from luggage to parasols, and San Francisco has outfitted local bus shelters with it.
The only problem now is making it as energy-efficient as silicon, which has an efficiency rating of 15-18%, while plastic is only at 7-8%.
If all goes as planned, this technology could be on the market in as soon as 5 to 10 years.